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Rain Spurs Accidents, Disrupts Commute

Weather: Big-rig crash during light storm forces closure of interchange between 118 and 5 freeways for five hours.


The first storm of the year dropped less than 2/10 of an inch of rain on the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, but it was enough to cause dozens of minor traffic accidents, many of which occurred during the morning commute.

"A lot of times, [light rain] is worse than a heavy downpour," said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Anna Maria Fritz. "People think they can drive normally."

The result was a lot of fender benders, most of which were caused by drivers following other motorists too closely.

"People are like sheep," said Officer Gil Ramos of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Division. "Everybody's following each other. When one trips and falls, the others do, too."

Law enforcement wasn't immune to mishaps. A CHP officer lost control of his car due to the slippery conditions and hit a guard rail as he entered the Golden State Freeway just north of the Magic Mountain amusement park on Wednesday morning, said Officer Doug Sweeney, a CHP spokesman. The officer was not seriously hurt.

The worst accident in the Los Angeles area occurred midmorning, when a truck jackknifed and careened into several vehicles on the Pomona Freeway near City of Industry, authorities said. Three people were injured in the accident, one critically, and traffic was tied up for about four hours due to the closing of two eastbound lanes.

Also, a Caltrans driver was killed when he lost control of his truck Tuesday night on the Foothill Freeway near Irwindale, CHP officers reported, but it wasn't clear whether the rain played a role in the accident. The driver was identified as Paul Chavez, 40, of Los Angeles.

The worst accident in the Valley occurred about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, when a big rig slammed into a wall on the interchange between the 118 and 5 freeways, spilling 30 gallons of fuel, a CHP official said. The driver, whose name was not released, was taken to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, but CHP spokesman Jeff Serena said the available information indicated he was not badly injured.

The interchange had to be closed for five hours to allow workers to clean up the crash and soak up the fuel with sand.

The rainfall did little to change the fact that this has been one of the driest winters in recent history. The season total so far at the Los Angeles Civic Center stands at about 2 inches, well below the normal 6.6 inches for this time of year, said Jeff House, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.

Weather forecasters attribute this year's lack of rainfall to La Nina, a condition during which a large ridge of high pressure tends to remain anchored over the northern Pacific at wintertime, diverting the jet stream and its accompanying storms well north of Southern California.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the storm that did make it south had dropped 0.12 of an inch of rain in Burbank, 0.15 in Chatsworth, 0.13 in Glendale, 0.06 in Northridge, 0.11 in Van Nuys and 0.14 in Woodland Hills, according to the National Weather Service.

The Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys got only a trace of rain.

The forecast, according to WeatherData, calls for no rain today, when it will be partly cloudy and breezy in the Valley, with highs in the low to mid-60s.

Warmer temperatures are on tap for Friday, with highs in the 70s and clear skies after morning fog. More of the same weather is expected for Saturday, but there is another chance of rain on Sunday, House said.

Times staff writers Miles Corwin and David Colker contributed to this story.

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